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Self-Employed with ADHD: Being Your Own Boss, Like a Boss

self employed with adhd

I became self-employed by accident. I didn’t even realize I was self-employed until one day I was getting stuff together around tax return time and I did some Googling and realized I was my own boss. (Does that not feel like something only an ADHDer could do? Be your own boss for a year without realizing it?)

I can’t say I’m the best boss I’ve ever had — I mean, I had a boss who gave us our birthdays off with pay and brought us gifts. (It’s hard to surprise yourself, really — although with ADHD I suppose it’s a bit easier to forget about things you’ve bought!) However, I’m a pretty great boss in terms of flexibility, working bizarre hours, and being able to go on trips whenever I want. 

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The benefits of self-employment

networking

There are many positives to self-employment, which is not to say that it isn’t hard work. Most days, I go to bed at 1:30 a.m., and get up around 10. I work what my guitar teacher called “musician’s hours,” or creative hours, which have some scientific backing (although mostly it depends on your body). Sometimes I start working right away (or, as soon as my ADHD medication kicks in), and other days I’ll work somewhere in the hours from 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Sometimes (especially in the nicer weather) I get up, take my meds, go for a leisurely walk, and then power through a bunch of work. These are my favorite days — exercise absolutely helps!

office

Today I got up, watched about 4 hours of YouTube, played a game on my iPhone, had lunch, thought about working, worked on my taxes instead, and then went to my three-hour-a-week job. I came home, continued doing my taxes, and started doing actual work at 11:24 p.m. While I most often start working at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, I do frequently start working for the day after 8 in the evening! These are definite perks of self-employment. As a writer, I set myself goals based on pieces of work done, not hours worked. This means I can also work on projects as the creative forces hit. 

IKEA and ADHD

ADHD may be frustrating at times, but it can certainly lead to more creative and interesting approaches to the world. This is a huge advantage to entrepreneurial sorts!
Kerri MacKay, self-employed with ADHD

ADHDers are often natural networkers, are happy to do a variety of tasks or tackle different kinds of projects, and are able to think outside of the box. And, after all, we’re known for our entrepreneurial tendencies. You may not know Ingvar Kamprad by name, but the creator of cinnamon bun scented Swedish furniture empire maze, IKEA, has ADHD. And you know those fun Swedish item names? Kamprad has dyslexia as well as ADHD. He devised this system to help organize products instead of a numeric system. I personally like to attribute the fun experience of IKEA to Kamprad’s ADHD. After all, ADHD may be frustrating at times, but it can certainly lead to more creative and interesting approaches to the world. This is a huge advantage to entrepreneurial sorts!

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Staying focused

kitchen

There is a flip side, of course. ADHD sometimes makes it a struggle for me to just sit down at my desk and get things done. Flexible work hours, a variety of workspace options (my office, my kitchen table, and Starbucks), and even different seating or standing options help with this. But staying focused is tough, and when most of your deadlines are self-imposed, it can be difficult to stay on track.  I use Bullet Journaling, some apps, and spreadsheets to make sure I am hitting my goals. Systems of organization can be a challenge to develop and you just have to find what works for you. I keep track of the bulk of my freelance projects and earnings in a meticulously designed spreadsheet. I have a less-methodical method for tracking business expenses (I hung a clear Command hook low on my office wall so it is barely visible beyond my desk, and my receipts are simply held by a wire clothespin hung on the hook).

spot whiteboard

Finding your own working style

Use your ADHD to your advantage! You know you rock at what you do, that’s why you chose to make it a business. Networking, as well as having friends who are also self-employed, can also help keep you on track.
Kerri MacKay, self-employed with ADHD

Self-employment isn’t for everyone. As much as I love it, there is a lot of uncertainty in finding projects and clients, and not knowing what your workload may look like from month-to-month, or if it will change rapidly. At 25 it’s a good fit for now, but I still apply every now and again for more “traditional” jobs. Even though I’d absolutely keep freelancing too, because I love it. And I cringe every time I see 8:30-4:30 hours and think of even having a “Real People” office.

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spot timer

As for now, I’m happy to continue my work life in my parents’ basement, with my pink IKEA table, purple desk chair, brightly colored foam tile flooring, and colored wall dot decals. I also have both a plastic T-Rex and a “thinking putty” on my desk, ready to fidget with on a conference call or when I’m just trying to get my brain back on the creative track I’m supposed to be pursuing.

Tips for self-employment with ADHD
  • Have an office space in your house. If this can’t be an entire room, portion off part of the room to be your work space (and face the wall to stay focused!). Choosing a room with a door can also be helpful depending on your family or roommates, and if you tend to work abnormal hours like I do. Keep your desk space as tidy as possible.
  • Use a whiteboard. Before mine fell off the wall (oops), I had check boxes for the projects I needed to complete in a month and colored them in as they were completed, as well as a weekly overview calendar. I used this in addition to a paper planner.
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones. While it isn’t for everyone, noise-cancelling earphones were a worthwhile investment for me. If you usually work with earphones in, this may be an upgrade to consider.
  • Use a timer. Sometimes hyperfocus can be an issue, sometimes it can be a blessing—having a timer to nudge you at set intervals may help you stay on track (or ensure you’re doing what you should be!).
  • Use your ADHD to your advantage! You know you rock at what you do, that’s why you chose to make it a business. Networking, as well as having friends who are also self-employed, can also help keep you on track. My friend Gerry regularly texts me during the work day and asks if I’m being productive. And if I’m not, I have to confess!

Are you self-employed and living with ADHD? Have you ever wondered if self-employment was right for you? Everyone’s Being Your Own Boss situation will be different, but I’m happy to answer questions!


Kerri MacKay is a Canadian, writer, quantified self-er, and ePatient with ADHD and asthma. She is a former hater of gym class who now holds a Bachelor of Physical & Health Education from the University of Winnipeg. She loves airplanes, t-shirts, cupcakes, and coaching goalball. Find her on Twitter @KerriYWG or KerriOnThePrairies.com.

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